Suicide of Saleswoman Prompts Boycott of Lotte Conglomerate

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A mother of two working at the Cheongnyangni branch of the Lotte Department Store in Seoul jumped to her death from its rooftop, causing a public outcry about the treatment of employees by major department stores.

NoCut News reports that X, aged 47, managed a womenswear boutique at the department store and faced intense pressure from the upper management to increase sales. When she failed to meet the quota established by the department head overseeing her floor, she received hourly messages exhorting her to improve her performance and threatening her with the prospect of a dressing down. When sales continued to lag, X was told to buy merchandise with her own credit card.

Boutiques such as the one managed by X belong to brands who need the department stores for access to retail customers. They experience routine pressure from store executives to increase sales as a predetermined percentage is paid to the department store from which they lease retail space.

X’s suicide became public following a Facebook message posted by her daughter, who denounced media reports attributing the death to personal issues and asked that the incident be used to highlight the cavalier treatment of employees by major conglomerates dominating the Korean retail sector.

The practice of making employees buy merchandise at department stores is shared by the three major chains of Lotte, Hyundai, and Shinsegae, the last being a Samsung subsidiary. Gamaechul, or ‘fake sales’ paid for by employees, would be counted toward company profit, while employees would remain responsible for the debt they accrued.

The three chains apparently share a blacklist of employees who are fired for failing to meet the sales quotas. Once fired from one chain, they would be unable to find employment at the other two.

The revelation has prompted an outcry and a possible boycott of Lotte, a chaebol that exercises significant influence over South Korean economy and has stakes in a diverse array of business ranging from retail to banking, construction, and heavy chemicals. Meanwhile, it has been reported that the Lotte management, in a poor attempt at damage control, has ordered all employees to refrain from talking to the media about the incident or face termination.

At a time President Park Geun-hye’s promise to execute “economic democratization” of South Korea by curtailing the power of chaebol is under scrutiny, it remains to be seen if the death of one saleswoman will have an impact on the government’s reform of the country’s economy.


From NoCut News:

Collective Rage at Lotte Department Store: Silencing Rendered Useless

Abounding Testimonies about Death of Female Employee… Even Talk of ‘Blacklist among Three Companies’

‘If you talk to the media, you will never set foot in the department store business again.’

After it was revealed that the Lotte Department Store had issued threats to all employees not to talk to the media about the suicide of a female employee at a boutique inside its Cheongnyangni branch, a maelstrom of criticism is brewing.

Former and current employees working in department retail as well as their families are releasing furious testimonies and reports to media outlets as well as on cyberspace.

The gag order has been effectively rendered pointless, and many netizens are calling for a boycott of Lotte, putting the department store in a corner.

Testimonies by current and former employees confirm a well-known industry secret that large department stores routinely force employees to fill the sales quota by their using credit cards or those belonging to friends and family.

A, who claims to have worked at Lotte and Shinsegae, testified in an interview with CBS that ‘My family would ask me whether I was going to work to make money or to swipe my card.’ A added, ‘If there were insufficient sales, the department called the brand headquarters to change the manager, and that wasn’t the worst of it. I am sure I wasn’t the only one to think about suicide.’

B, manager at a clothing company, said ‘When I worked [at a department store], I probably accrued close to 200,000,000 KRW (approx. 200,000 USD) in debt to create fake sales during a five-year period. My salary was less than 20,000,000 KRW per year, but my credit card expenditure was around 40,000,000 KRW, making me a VIP in the eyes of the card company.’

Another former manager, C, said, ‘There was a department head on every floor, and every night after closing, the department heads returned half-dead from a meeting held by the branch chief, only to convey their stress to boutique managers in turn.’

D, who says his wife is a manager at a department store, said, ‘Every month the department store asks how much in sales she will make, and if she says 50,000,000 KRW, the floor head will insist that the number be increased to 60,000,000 KRW.’

So every month, there would have to be close to 10,000,000 KRW in fake sales at this one boutique alone, creating debt burden on employees and prompting drastic decisions.

E, who claims to have a friend working as a manager at a department store, said, ‘My friend was under a lot of pressure so I used my card to create fake sales several times. I understand there have been several suicides.’

It is not only the fake sales that pushes employees to the brink. The testimonials also indicate that it is normal for the department store to insult the personal dignity of boutique managers and force them to work overtime.

F who currently manages a boutique inside a department store said, ‘Some floor heads are known to be such masters at psychological torture that they make Lee Keun-ahn [a notorious torture expert during the military dictatorship] pale in comparison. I just don’t understand how people can value professional success so much that they can justify causing such misery to others.’

G, who claims to have quit a manager post a month ago said, ‘I was forced to make at least 5,000,000 KRW in sales everyday, regardless of whether it was a weekday or weekend. I couldn’t dream of going home before 10 pm.’

When department stores call high-paid celebrities to make an appearance, that expense was shouldered entirely by the boutiques.

A, the former boutique manager at Lotte and Sinsegae, said, ‘When a celebrity comes, it costs 10,000,000 KRW per hour to pay for the appearance, and the department made the brands pay for it. We even had to pay for the meals customers ate.’

The interviewees voice that Lotte is not the only department chain known for its callous treatment of employees. H, manager at a different department chain said, ‘The three major chains share a blacklist of employees who fail to fill quotas. Isn’t this a kind of collusion?

The major department store chains have remained silent as the rage of employees find greater expression, but there are also signs of fluster.

Lotte, the focus of the current controversy, has, however, issued a statement: ‘We feel that this suicide is most unfortunate and regrettable. We will wait until the police determines the motive behind the suicide to clarify our official position.’

Comments from Daum:


First of all, let’s boycott Lotte.


I may be a Busan native, and I already knew that Lotte was the worst of the worst, but it really is rotten to the core. I admit I have never spent money or bought anything there, but this really is goodbye.


They are garbage. I am going to boycott. And all its subsidiaries. And other major department stores.


It really is a corporation worthy of a boycott.


The whole world knows that Lotte is the worst of the lot.


You think it’s just department stores?? The same happens at big marts!!


They really are a bunch of scum. Just how long do you think you will live that you behave with such venom. It is because of these evil corporations that society is becoming more and more unlivable.


The worst kind of garbage no better than a dog’s dick, that is Lotte!! Let’s punish this Japanese company [Lotte was founded by a Japanese of Korean-descent] with the power of the Korean people!


Large retail companies… you buy the best locations at city centers with your money and practice usury with brands and employees under your control. Why don’t you ever think about the employees who kill themselves? Executives should be forced to work in retail for a change or there will be no improvement.


So celebrities can do some autographs and have pictures taken for three hours, all for which they get paid 30,000,000 KRW…


There is a reason Lotte is a Japanese corporation. He he.


That is how celebrities can ride luxury cars worth 300,000,000 KRW… Scumbags…


Pro-Japanese corporate trash


It hasn’t been a half year since the new president took office. Why don’t you do something?


Time for a boycott…

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  • Korea is a country of extremes. For all its wonderful talents, innovation and economic power, there is corruption, violence, depression, xenophobia etc. It’s like one face is modern and admirable and the other stuck in its own Dark Ages.

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  • VBNinja

    I will do as much as I can to boycott Lotte and its products through my purchasing power that I use on-line to buy products from Korean/Japan/China. I don’t wish to support anyone but worthy, pro-employee, small companies and the small-business owners that are struggling against these giants. I hate these big corporations with their almighty hate and discord for their very own employees that are making them rich!

  • So now wonder they can never sign their star players and or win a bloody championship.

  • I can’t imagine spending more than my salary on merchandise in order to keep my job. It’s incredibly depressing to read about this.

  • Gorgonzola

    I know a number of Lotte Department Store execs pretty well, and I’ve discussed this case at length with the chap responsible for dealing with all of the fallout. I’m not taking a particular side on the issue, but as the article and comments were so one sided, let me give you the story from his side, for a bit of balance.

    The woman in question was a relatively new employee, and had been with Lotte for less than two months. She hadn’t worked as an employee for many years, and was forced to take the retail job for financial reasons. Her husband had bankrupted his business, the debts from which were all in her name. As a result she had had all of her assets frozen while creditors got their claims in and was in pretty dire straits.

    The manager accused of bullying her had been in that position for an even shorter period of time, I think less than a month, and was just one of the many people (mostly family) that she sent accusatory messages to before she jumped. By all accounts she was struggling to adjust not just to life working in a department store, but to the demands of actually holding down a job. The day before she had been evicted from her house, and the bailiffs has posted large notices outside her property saying that it was being repossessed, which must have added to her shame and sense of despair.

    It’s been the best part of a week since we discussed this, and so the rest of the details are a little hazy. I don’t condone the corporate culture here, nor the rampant greed of the chaebols, but the article and comments translated above tell nowhere near the full picture.

    • Joey

      Just because this example might not be ‘perfect’, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t thousands of other Koreans being exploited by the chaebols.

      • Gorgonzola

        I didn’t say that there aren’t, and indeed I agree with your broader point. I’m merely pointing out that the evidence points to this being a particularly shitty example.

    • lonetrey / Dan

      I can see that this example did not take into account all the other details that piled onto the poor businesswoman’s life…

      But I do approve that there is now discussion about work ethics in the Korean business fields, it is interesting to me and no doubt is important in creating a better/equal working environment for workers.

  • Yu Bum Suk

    Do they still make everyone stand to attention while they play the Lotte song at the beginning of the day? I used to live near one and always found that so eery.

    • David

      This is why so many outside observers say Koreans crave a military dictatorship (and there are plenty in ROK calling for a return to one)..

  • mr.wiener

    It’s amazing more people don’t go postal in this kind of corporate climate.

    • dk2020

      asians don’t give a shit about mental health ..

  • jin

    “There is a reason Lotte is a Japanese corporation. ㅎㅎ.”

    First of all, suicide is no joke. no one should be pushed to the edge to a point where they want to kill themselves. Second of all, while Japan is known for high suicide rates, its been on a decrease. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development published statistics, with S. Korea: 24.7 suicides per 100,000 people and Japan: 19.4 per 100,000 people. Its funny how this commenter and others bash the company for it being Japanese and how “there is a reason Lotte is a Japanese corporation,” even though their own country is doing worse. The lack of care for their employers stem from the underdevelopment of the country’s labor laws societal views, not because its Japanese. Koreans are some of the world’s hardest working people in the world with very little compensation or reward within Western standards. Koreans need to clean their own room before they judge others, esp. with a topic that is of great significance and importance.

    • David

      In addition it is not a Japanese company, it is a Korean company, a Chaebol, protected by the government and used as a shining example by the Korea people all over when they are not mad at it.

  • BennyBob

    People of Busan! Don’t chant “Lotte” at the Giants’ baseall games this summer. Tell your friends and family. Tell the fans in the stands. Let the silence spread as quickly as the “wave.” The music comes on and no “Looooote, Lotte, Lotte, Looote!”

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  • Your Sexy Cousin Rex

    Korea needs to legalize weed


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  • This is no different than the abuse by the milk company or the executive who assaulted a stewardess. The chaebol act like they are above the law, and until the public rise up, they are above the law. The only time things change in Korea is when there’s bad PR.

    Those Lotte executives should consider themselves lucky they’re in Korea, not the US where an employee would be more likely to go postal than commit suicide.

    • David

      You are absolutely correct, they act that way because they are above the law. Also correct about the situation in the U.S.

      • QQPEWPEW

        In America this is a multi-million dollar class action lawsuit

  • Badaboum

    Samsung is japanese ? Because if that kind of employee treatment is Japanese, then the two other chains are japanese.
    Korean are so unable to realize that their society has a problem that they just put the blame on the japanese. AS ALWAYS. They waste their time bashing foreigners whereas they could tke this time to find solutions.

    • my dear

      You got it backwards, it’s the Japanese blaming Koreans all the time whenever there’s some high profile crime in Japan. Didn’t the Japanese blame Koreans for the earthquake in 1923 in Tokyo and Fukushima when some of the looters in the aftermath were blamed as “Koreans”?

      • Badaboum

        IN 1923. It’s like saying that the French were german-hating in 1946. Of course they were.

        And this year, the when this Osaka mayor said those things about comfort women, there was an uproar in Japan BY JAPANESE. The Korean hate in Japan is less common and encouraged than the Japanese hate in Korea.

    • Sillian

      Those netizens mentioned Japanese just because Lotte started out in Japan and then expanded to Korea.

      Ofc it’s irrelevant and stupid but in the bashing mode, it’s nothing new that netizens would just bring anything related to mention. Your comment is not that much better. The claim that Koreans blame foreigners instead of themselves for all their problems is such a trite flawed way of looking at it. It’s more like some foreign commentators are selectively fixated on what catches their attention while magically overlooking the vast majority of netizen comments criticizing Koreans at fault.

      “Koreans are so unable to realize that their society has a problem”

      The moment you said it, you just made fun of yourself. I mean if you just read through this very site, it is supposed to tell you a very different story. What magical glasses are you wearing?

      • Badaboum

        I still think that Korean are unable to see where the real problem is.
        In France, we have the same kind of problem with France Télécom. They put so much pressure on their employees that there have been a ” suicide wave ” some years ago. The solution ? France Télécom paid for psychologist, so that they can still put pressure on their employees but then say ” hey, not my fault, I do anything I can so that they can feel right, see, I PAY THEM A PSY “. Boycotting a brand is as efficient as France télécom’s actions to relieve their employees. Korean don’t see where the real problem is so they don’t find the right solution.

    • Isaac

      You must be stupid (lol). Go on to japanCRUSH and see what they say about Koreans.

      • Badaboum

        Yeah, and Korean are SOOO clever to do what Japanese do. I mean, being racist because the person you discriminate against are raccist… You use a bad excuse.
        And wow, insulting me makes you look so clever.

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